Probably the best German general to fight at Stalingrad was Hans Valentin Hube, commander of the 16th Panzer Division, who replaced Gustav von Wietersheim as commander of the XIV Panzer Corps on September 15, 1942. Hube was born in the garrison town of Naumburg in 1890, joined the army in 1909, and received his commission in the 26th Infantry Regiment the following year. After two years of fighting on the Western Front, he was so badly wounded in the Battle of Verdun that his right arm had to be amputated, and it seemed that his military career was over. With the same iron determination that characterized his entire career, however, young Hube rehabilitated himself, overcame his handicap, and returned to duty. He was a captain when the war ended.
When the 4,000-man officer corps was selected in 1919 and 1920, the Army Personnel Office had the pick of the best, both physically and mentally. Hans Valentin Hube was the only one-armed officer they chose to retain. Known for his determination, innovation, energy, and attention to detail, Hube strove to master every facet of his profession. Even so, promotions came slowly for officers in the Reichsheer (which was typical of a small army in this respect), and Hube did not become a major until 1929. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1934, the same year he took charge of a special experimental motorized battalion, which distinguished itself in the summer maneuvers and added impetus to the demand for mechanization in the German Army. Meanwhile, Hube was named commandant of the prestigious Infantry School at Doeberitz, a suburb of Berlin. This was a choice assignment, but Hube’s rise was just beginning.
In October 1935, Hube was named commandant of the Olympic Village, which was to be erected in the meadows adjoining the barracks. He was also in charge of security. Since Hitler was personally involved in all aspects of “his” Olympics, it was only natural that he conferred frequently with Hube. It was soon obvious that the one-armed officer was the master of his assignment. Hitler was so impressed that he rewarded Hube with a special promotion to full colonel in August 1936.
When World War II broke out, Hube petitioned OKH for a field command. He was given the 3rd Infantry Regiment in early October 1939, but this formation was nonmotorized and had an ultra-conservative (and almost hereditary) East Prussian officer corps. Not happy with his assignment, Hube used his contacts in Berlin (and possibly even the Fuehrer himself) to get a transfer. On May 15, 1940, he assumed command of the 16th Infantry Division, whose commander had fallen ill. This unit was already scheduled to be converted into a panzer division, and part of it was already motorized. In any case Colonel Hube led it with exceptional skill in France and was promoted to major general on June 1.
After France capitulated, Hube supervised the conversion of the 16th into a panzer unit and oversaw its armored training. It was slated to take part in the invasion of Yugoslavia, but the country fell so quickly that Hube’s division was not committed to any heavy fighting. After taking part in the triumphant entry into Belgrade, Hube and his men were sent to Silesia and then into the Soviet Union.
From the first, Hans Hube proved to be an outstanding panzer commander and a master tactician, both in offensive and defensive operations. He fought at Uman, Kiev, Rostov, in the Mius River defense in the winter of 1941–1942, and at Kharkov. He was successively decorated with the Knight’s Cross and the Oak Leaves and was promoted to lieutenant general on April 1, 1942. Meanwhile, he earned a reputation throughout the army as a tough, fair, no-nonsense commander, noted for his physical courage and tactical brilliance. The men of his unit—and others as well—called him Der Mensch (The Man) implying that no one else in the whole German Army approached his stature. And that is exactly the way that many of the men of the 6th Army felt about him.
A measure of the respect that Hube commanded was the fact that he echoed Wietersheim’s objections to the way the Stalingrad campaign was being handled, including his criticisms of Hitler’s meddling in the affairs of subordinate units. An outspoken officer known for his absolute honesty, Hube stood so high in the estimation of the Fuehrer that he not only got away with it, but he also received his promotion to general of panzer troops on October 1, 1942—only six months after his previous promotion.
In January 1943, as the end neared for the soldiers trapped in Stalingrad, Hitler signaled for Hube to fly out of the dying pocket. Many in the city would have given everything they owned to have received this order, but Hube categorically refused to obey it. He sent word back that he had led his men into Stalingrad and had ordered them to fight to the last bullet. Now he intended to show them how to do it. Hitler responded by sending four members of his SS bodyguard to Stalingrad in a special airplane. Hube and four members of his staff were called to 6th Army headquarters, where the SS men surprised them and flew them out of the pocket at gunpoint.
In 1943, Hube rebuilt the XIV Panzer Corps and led it in the Battle of Sicily, where he held off 12 Allied divisions (including those of the redoubtable General George S. Patton) for 38 days with four understrength German divisions, in spite of the Allies’ almost total command of the sea and the air. Then Hube escaped across the Straits of Messina with his entire command. The Man himself left in one of the last boats. After serving for a short time in Italy, where he fought at Salerno and was briefly acting commander of the 10th Army, Hube assumed command of the 1st Panzer Army in Russia and, much to the delight of the Fuehrer, brilliantly led it out of a Soviet encirclement in March 1944, with help from Field Marshal von Manstein. On April 20, 1944—his own birthday—Hitler promoted Hube to colonel general and decorated him with the Diamonds to his Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Hube was also earmarked to take charge of Army Group South Ukraine shortly thereafter; presumably it had already been decided to give its then commander, Ferdinand Schoerner, command of Army Group North. But Hans Valentin Hube was killed the very next day, when his airplane crashed a few miles from Berchtesgaden. A few weeks before his own death, Adolf Hitler was still lamenting the passing of Der Mensch, stating that he was one of the top three commanders to emerge from the Second World War.